This Whole Preacher Thing

Oy vey.  I am wiped out.  Really.  Now, I’ve preached before.  I’ve been picking up one-off preaching jobs since the summer of 2010 – after my first two years of seminary.  I like preaching.  And when I did my summer CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education – my chaplaincy internship), I was responsible for at least two Sunday services in the hospital chapel – maybe three.  I’m comfortable with this.  And at my seminary I was on the weekly chapel planning committee for two or three years.  I’m fine with planning worship.

So why is it that I was more nervous this morning preaching in front of my teaching congregation than I’ve ever been before?  Well, I think I know.  There’s a difference between showing up at a church that doesn’t know me, or doesn’t know me well, preaching a sermon, maybe once a year, and then going away, and being involved in the daily life of a congregation while also leading worship there.  And there’s a difference between preaching in a congregation where I’m not seen as part of the staff, but where I’m known as a member and one of the family (as I’ve done in my home congregation), and standing up to preach as the intern of this church.  Now, I know I’m being judged, among other things.

I still like it.  And preaching is only a small, albeit highly visible, part of what the minister does, and of what I’m expected to do in my role as intern.  But wow, it does wear me out.

There’s the preparation.  Can you keep a secret?  Promise?  OK. On Fridays and Saturdays, my Facebook feed is usually filled with status updates from my clergy and clergy-in-training friends that say things like, “sermonating,” or “come, sermon, come,” or, “praying for Divine inspiration.”  There are agonizing groans of frustration as people note the lateness of the hour or day of the week, the lack of eloquence, and the frustration of being unable to find just that exactly right citation/illumination/contextual explanation.  To be sure, there are also the triumphal, “sermon done! BAM!” updates, as well.  But that 10 – 20 minute sermon you just listened to is often the result of hours and hours of painstaking labor.  Usually a labor of love, but, oh, does it always have to be so tough?

And then there’s the whole rest of the service to plan and coordinate.  Is the choir singing? No?  Oh gee, that’s too bad, because thus-and-such anthem would have been perfect.  I’d like to do this hymn.  Oh, the regular pianist is out, and the substitute only knows how to play certain hymns and this isn’t one of them?  OK.  Oh, you’re using this same hymn NEXT week?  OK, guess i won’t use it this week, then.  No – I’m not saying this has all happened in my teaching congregation already – it’s just all stuff that’s happened, and does happen, over time.

Then there’s the Sunday morning when you get up and the whole world has changed since you wrote your sermon on Friday or Saturday.  Like a huge natural disaster kills lots of people.  Or the congregation’s beloved organist suddenly dies.  This stuff happens.  And then the whole sermon that you were just about to preach on how great our lives really are is just right out the window.

All that extraordinary stuff – I’m not even talking about that, though.  I mean, yes, I was just talking about it, but that’s not my main point.  That stuff is exceptional.  My point is, that it doesn’t take the exceptional stuff to turn my Sunday brain into a blob of oatmeal.

Just the regular stuff, when things are working pretty much as they’re supposed to be working, is exhausting enough.  So there’s all the preparation, and we usually get to preach the sermon we’ve prepared, and then we may have to make a few last minute adjustments, but all-in-all, it’s put together pretty well.  But then the preacher has to be on.

Now this isn’t politician on, or salesman on, but it’s still on.  When I started attending church in my 20s, I could sit in the pews, or even in the choir loft (where almost no one in the congregation could see), and as long as I didn’t actively draw attention to myself, it was fine.  As the preacher, I have to sit on the chancel.  And behave.  I can’t shift around a lot.  I can’t knit.  I can’t look something up on my smartphone, even if it’s perfectly innocent and related to the service, because everyone’s watching and it will look like I’m texting.  And I have to pay attention to my facial expressions.

In this congregation, I’m the intern.  I have to build relationships with these folks.  I have work to do with them outside of Sunday worship.  I have to be pastoral with them at all times.  Every day.  So I have to reflect that sitting on the chancel as well.

Then it’s time to deliver my sermon.  I have to remember to make eye contact while not losing my place.  Unless I decide to try preaching from just notes – but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.  I have to monitor the congregation for signs of extreme miscommunication.  If the whole congregation is getting antsy, or all the heads are bobbing, I’ve got to do something different – go off script (scary).  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.  But I worry about it.

And when the service is over, I have to shake hands.  People want to talk.  I got to church an hour (at least) early, and I want to take a nap.  Or go eat.  But my job is to listen, so I do.

I want to be clear – I like these people.  They’re warm and friendly, and I’m very glad to be their intern.  I just don’t know if I was prepared for how much preaching Sundays would take out of me.  Perhaps this is God’s way of enforcing a day of rest on me.

That’s my mite.  It’s all I’ve got – I’m totally wiped out.

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